Friday, May 27, 2005


I don't usually find quizzes all that useful, but these two seemed apt. I found the first at bethquick -- thanks Elizabeth. The other I found on the same website. Both results seem accurate, as far as they go. For those of you who know me, the revelation that I'm a Postmodern Christian isn't much of a revelation... I'm curious about their definition of "idealist." It must be philosophical, not common usage... If that's the case, that's probably pretty accurate.



Cultural Creative














What is Your World View? (updated)
created with



















Which religion is the right one for you? (new version)
created with


I was up late last night, trying to sleep while my wife was away with a friend in Boston (our friend blogs at Theologygirl). After two episodes of Good Eats on the Food Network, I switched to latenight comedy/talk whatever Letterman and Leno are. Letterman was a rerun, so it had to be Jay Leno and the Tonight Show, at least because it was a Jaywalking night. Don't get me wrong, I find that stuff funny, but this time it was a bit disturbing.

Jay's goal was (allegedly) to discover whether men or women knew more about U.S. history, but as you know if you've ever caught Jaywalking, Jay's real point is to tell us just how little our fellow citizens know about the subject. My fellow historians, from the inexperienced first-year history major, to the emeritus professor at an ancient and venerable University -- where did we go wrong?

Don't get me wrong, I can understand Americans not remembering there was a War of 1812, or details about the Spanish-American War, or even who assassinated Lincoln, but some of the things people said last night were beyond funny -- they were downright scary. Jay asked who was Supreme Allied Commander during WWII, who later became president, and one man said George Washington... He asked what side Japan was on during WWII, the United States' or the Nazi's, and another man said the U.S.... He asked true or false (TRUE OR FALSE DEAR READERS), whether jet aircraft were first used during the American Revolution -- you've got it SOMEONE SAID TRUE!

I guess it wouldn't be so bad, but we let these people vote. We actually encourage them to vote. To be fair, democracy scares me (slightly less than most other forms of government), but this kind of ignorance is why. How can we expect people to make informed judgments about government when they don't know anything about the past -- it's not like we have another equally valuable source to consult to determine what might be best to do in the present. It's enough to make me wish for the Second Coming.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Home Alone

Remember the Home Alone movies? Yeah -- apparently that's not me. I HATE being home alone. Unfortunately, that's exactly my state right now, and whenever my wife has to work in Boston.

You see, I've never really lived alone, and I don't like doing it, even in short stints. When I was in college, I lived in the dorms, and once I graduated I moved into a 3 bedroom apartment with friends, and had roommates until I married my wife. Since then, thankfully, I have lived with her. Tonight, however, I can predict less than excellent sleep, as she's far away, and I'll probably be watching Food Network or reading American Jesus (which is an interesting cultural history, if you're interested in that sort of thing).

I get deeply introspective when I'm home alone -- thinking about my sins and shortcomings, and wondering why my life is the way it is -- home alone things. At my best moments these thoughts lead to prayer, confession, and a sense of reconciliation with God, after at least a brief alienation in the midst of my introspection.

Maybe that's why I don't like to be alone -- it reminds me of my most important relationship, and how weak that relationship with God can be. I might be odd for a 21st century American, but I think I'd prefer my guilt and shame in the company of other Christians, rather than in solitude and silence -- early Methodist Class Meetings appeal to me because of their spiritual accountability.

I guess even at these times when I'm alone with God because I can't be anything else, I fear that spiritual apathy might overtake me even in the midst of the silence. At my worst moments I feel like I'm still "Shackled by a heavy burden..." but at my best I can shout with the saints most dedicated to Christ that "He touched me and made me whole!" The thing is, there are days I probably couldn't tell you which was more true.

It's not that I don't want the deepest relationship with God possible, but that I'm too often either too scared or disinterested to take my own spiritual pulse. I think I'm probably scared more than disinterested, because I really do care, but the result is essentially the same. Not that I don't pray, dear readers, but sometimes I don't really pray with the intent of listening for clear and audible answers.

Right now, I'm thinking of a song I remember from my childhood: "Into the fiery furnace, they were there for fast... Nebuchadnezzer thought they'd never last... but God was there, he'd never let them go... Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego!" I think I'll go take my vitals, and see how things are... Whatever else I find, I know I'll find I'm not really home alone.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Proof that Miracles Still Happen...

Today, against all odds, the District Committee on Ordained Ministry (DCOM) agreed to make my wife a certified candidate and approve her for a Local Pastor's License, despite the some unresolvable issues that I mentioned in a previous post. Dear readers, none but the Almighty could overcome the weight of UMC bureaucracy to make such things happen!

For the last year, after finishing seminary, she has been serving a small, part-time church as... uh, I guess she's "officially" been a lay-speaker with pastoral care and administrative responsibilities. According to the Discipline, she hasn't been the "Pastor," or "Minister," per se, but try explaining that to the ordinary congregation (she preaches every week and runs meetings, they have a hard enough time understanding why they can't call her "Reverend"). The first Sunday of each month, a retired UMC elder has lead the congregation in communion... Soon enough, she will be able to lead the people of her church in the celebration of the sacraments, just as she has lead them in worship, prayer, evangelism, outreach, service and the business of the church over the last year.

So far, that's all the good news we have... I still hope that the District Superintendent and the Bishop's Cabinet will find a use for me, even while I'm still a student... but the truth is, I'm not overly optimistic. God may provide an opportunity for me to serve, but the time might not yet be right. In the meantime, I'll pray, hope, and wait...

I know, dear readers, patience is a virtue... but the truth is, it's not exactly a virtue I have in particularly great quantities. I tell you the truth, if patience were the sole measure of faith, I'd be far from the Kingdom of God (as only part of the equation, I'm probably not as far from the Kingdom).

Just if you're wondering if my late-night tummy trouble has turned me off of pork, tonight we'll be having pork sirloin chops with cole slaw and perhaps mashed potatoes with feta. Mmmm... pork and cheese...

Monday, May 23, 2005

Sleepless in the sticks

Last night I slept, well, poorly... I'm not sure if it was because of the practical crisis in my wife's ordination process, or the more mundane possibility that a combination of sausage and manicotti for lunch and grilled ham and cheese was actually more pork and dairy products than any one human being should consume in a day (I'm sure it must be the former, as the latter is clearly an absurdity -- too much ham, cheese and sausage is self-contradictory for people with functional gall-bladders)...

It must be my dear wife's ordination woes -- today she has talked to the pastor of our home church, consulted with two District Superintendents, and done everything but call the Bishop to resolve an unfortunate matter of confusion at the local church level that could stymie the ordination process for her... Some things just don't seem right (like being held responsible for other people's failures -- wasn't Calvary supposed to do something about setting that right?), and far too often, those are things we cannot seem to fix.

We talked to our now-retired former pastor, who told me a story about United Methodist polity: One of the General Boards comissioned a study. When the report came back from the company conducting the study, the representatives of the company told the general board that in all the years they had spent analyzing major corporations, non-profits, and other large corporations they had never seen anything so complicated and complex as the United Methodist Church. The corporate reps had only one question for the general board... "Who's in charge?" Fellow Methodists, how many times have we asked that very question! I bet you know what the General Board staffers said... "Well, no one really runs it, it just sort of runs itself..." Yes, that seems true; yet sometimes, I think I hear a still, small voice trying to speak through all of the beaurocratic clutter that seems to want to silence it, and I know that the One who formed all things, and who commanded the sea to be still is still at work, even in this hyperorganized part of the Body of Christ.

If you're willing to look, there are signs of hope that the Spirit is at work all over the place. Today, I went to help move the leftovers from a church supper fundraiser -- a New England church tradition -- to be served at a free meal for those in the community who can't afford to feed their families without help. The woman who heads up the project in my wife's church has been widowed for just over a week, but was gladly busy with the work she does after every church supper. Christ is active in His Body, leading the saints in building His Kingdom, even when the darkness seems to be closing in on us.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Why Kristof is right -- and Spong doesn't cut it...

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece, entitled Liberal Bible-Thumping, Nicholas Kristof reviews a recent book by Bishop Spong, and argues that Spong's approach shows liberals how to confront conservative Christians on their own terms. Kristof seems to be calling for a more civil response to conservatives by liberals, and in itself, that would be good. Espeically among Christians, we need more civil dialogue and less unprovoked animus. As Kristof reminds liberal readers: "It's entirely possible to honor Christian conservatives for their first-rate humanitarian work treating the sick in Africa or fighting sex trafficking in Asia, and still do battle with them over issues like gay rights."

Nicholas Kristof is right -- not only as a working strategy for liberal politics, but also for liberal/conservative Christian dialogue. In fairness to Bishop Spong, I have only read Kristof's review of his work. I'm sure it would appeal to a particular kind of Christian, but I'm probably not one of them. Based on what I know of Spong's earlier work, and on Kristof's account, Spong doesn't cut it. Insinuating that Jesus had an affair with Mary Magdalene, and that Paul was a self-hating homosexual doesn't help dialogue, but Spong isn't really the issue, he's just a symptom. The larger issue is that liberal Christians usually cannot acknowledge the "first-rate humanitarian work..." of conservative Christians, let alone honor it (at least in my experience), and when confronted with the socially positive results of conservative Christianity, many liberal Christians try to find ways to dismiss even social improvement as "naive focus on individuals," at the expense of "the systemic evils that cause these problems." If it's not pie-in-the-sky Christianity, its worse -- it's self-help Christianity!

Until we, as Christians, can find a way to talk to each other over the great divide, we will be ineffectual in our mission to speak to the world about issues where the majority of both sides agree -- like the importance of human dignity, love, compassion, and the centrality of God for a fulfilling human life; or like the degrading power of poverty, addiction, disease, and inaction by those who have the power to change things. In the end, despite our differences, we claim to have faith in the same God revealed in the flesh in Jesus Christ -- if we cannot model how disagree, often from across vast chasms, and do it without unneccessary vitriol, we have failed to hear Christ's call to be peacemakers.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Yes, we do have a mission....

After decades of numerical decline, the bishops of the UMC have discovered that the United Methodist Church has a mission, and that mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. That might not seem like a big deal, but apparenly, the people of the UMC don't know how to make disciples, at least according to Bishop Peter Weaver of the Boston Area, and current President of the Council of Bishops. Is it just me, or is there something wrong when Christians don't know how to make more Christians?

I know plenty of United Methodists who could organize your bakesale, petition your state senator, picket your city hall, and be extremely nice to you if you happened to darken the doorstep of their local church -- but far too few of my fellow United Methodists seem to have the desire or the wherewithall to tell you why you should join them in their local church. Maybe I'm crazy, but if our mission is to make disciples who can then transform the world, we need to be a bit more effective at making disciples!

For some time now, in many of our conferences, we have closed churches in areas where the population isn't falling (and often where it is growing), and we have had decreasing church attendance in other places as well. Anecdotally, in the city of Boston, one of the old men in my home church can remember attending Boston District Methodist Youth events with the youth from our church and the youth from over 30 other Methodist churches in Boston -- today, there are no youth in our church, and usually only about 20 people on a Sunday morning, and only 7 other UMC's in Boston... The district now stretches well into the suburbs, and while it contains more churches than the Boston District did when Jimmy was young, it's almost impossible to develop the same fellowship with youth from a 50 square mile area, as a 7 square mile area with good public transportation, and even with all the churches now connected, I would guess there are fewer youth than in Jimmy's day.

I don't know when things went wrong, but it must have been during or after World War II, judging from the older generations who continue to teach Sunday School and who remember how things used to be. Yes, there might be some cultural factors involved, but the primary one is that most of the church members I know who are much younger than Jimmy know how to talk about "God," but don't seem to know all that much about following Jesus or how to make disciples of Jesus. Worse yet, for the life of the church, many of these church members have defended to me their own children's lack of involvement in the church because "they pray and have a relationship with God... they just don't come to church all the time."

The problem with this thinking is that for a disciple, "Church" isn't a place where you go, but who you are. Unlike being a Sous Chef, or a Biologist, or an M.D., you can't be "Church" alone, and Christian disciples are both formed and find their identity within the Church. Can we be Christian without much involvement in the local church? Perhaps -- but we cannot have the kind of rich and fulfilling Christian life that makes being a Christian so wonderful without the Church. Yes, Jesus can be our Best Friend without the Church, but it's hard to hear the voice of our Lord without spending time in his Body, the Church.

I'll have to stop here, if I keep going, I might never finish... but, hey, this is what I've got -- it worked for me,and it's what inspires me to live the way I do... when I don't get in the way.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Ordination Blues...

Last night I filled out the IRAI, one of the series of tests I will be taking over the next months (and perhaps years) of the pre-ordination process in the UMC. I call it the "pre-ordination" process, because I cannot be licensed until I have completed a sufficient number of steps in the process. Currently, I am waiting on an understaffed office in Nashville and the U.S. Postal Service so that I can plow through the multiple sessions of the candidacy guidebook. After several stages of the candidacy guidebook, I will be allowed to talk to my local church about God's call on my life, and hopefully they too will believe it has happened -- thus catapulting me back to the District Committee who has already met me once, who will then hear the pleas of my local church that I be made a certified candidate, and if my (by then) five semesters of seminary education pay off... I'll be a certified candidate for ordination. That is what I "fondly" (and irreverently) call the "pre-ordination" process.

My mentor seems like my kind of person -- a self-described evangelical United Methodist with an academic background -- and I'm sure he will help me do what I need to do to be ready for the District Committee and the Board of Ordained Ministry at the Conference level. Perhaps, both my wife and I might get through the process in this conference... that'd be nice, as we believe we have been called to do the work of the Kingdom here, in the UMC, despite occasional bouts of uncertainty about the UMC part. I love my church, most of the time, but sometimes I wonder why the UMC does when its mission "to make disciples of Jesus Christ" seems so clear and obvious to me.

Pray for me in the process, dear readers, and for my wife (she has a memorial service she's working on this week, with some family difficulties involved). Pastoral work isn't always easy, but for those God calls and equips, it is fulfilling, even when it's frustrating...

Monday, May 16, 2005

Faith and Politics

This is a repost from my previous blogsite -- this was too good for someone to miss...

My friend, Chris raised an interesting question on his blog, and I needed to respond… Here’s an excerpt of the relevant material from his post – you can read the rest at this location.

And now for something that has vexed me for quite sometime--the relationship between faith and public policy. WHAT? Yeah, I'm serious. Lemme put it this way: What impact should my faith in Christ, which I strongly believe to be right, have on my analysis of public policies? …

…First of all, the United States, as a government, is a secular institution. Yes, at its founding, the framers of the constitution did invoke the name of God and ask his blessing. Yet they also, shortly after ratifying it, passed the Bill of Rights, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or promoting the free exercise thereof". This phrase was meant to make sure no religion was made the state religion, as the Church of England is in Great Britain. It also allows people here to worship as they see fit. The government is here taken out of the religious realm. How can I use my faith, then, as a basis for my opinions about public issues, when from the get-go the government has said they don't respect one faith above another? Why should they respect my faith-based reasoning any more than a Muslim's or Buddhist's or Mormon's?

I have thought about this issue a lot, too. I could argue, as Augustine did, that the Christian not only has the right, but the responsibility to compel others to live in accordance with Christian teaching, and even to make them attend the services of the universal Church. Of course, on this issue the venerable saint was wrong.

Along with my opinion about Augustine's reasoning, Chris both misquoted the first amendment, and forgot his colonial history. The first amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Let's not deal with issues of congress abridging freedom of speech, the press, peaceable assembly or petition of government at this point -- let's just deal with the relevant two clauses.

In terms of the first clause, members of the Constitutional Convention knew what established religion was -- it was, in many of the colonies, and still is, in much of Europe, an official religion sanctioned and funded (at least in part) by the state. Let us remember that the 14th amendment did not apply the Federal Bill of Rights to the States until AFTER the Civil War... because several of the States maintained their established churches for some time after the ratification of the Constitution, and presumably, until the passage of the 14th amendment, the States had the right to establish or disestablish religion as they saw fit. That is the real problem with strict-separationist arguments...they fail in the face of the historical realities.

So, the real issue (in light of the first clause), is what the second clause means. Nothing whatsoever is said in the first amendment about promoting religion. However, there is some question as to what the Constitution means by "prohibiting the free practice thereof..." May Congress limit the practice of religion, by banning it from the public sphere, or limiting the rites religious organizations might practice, or by compelling people to behave in ways that defy their religious convictions, or by compelling religious organizations (or their duly-appointed clergy) to provide taxes to the state to use in ways contrary to the teaching of those bodies (thus forcing those institutions and their representatives to behave in ways that violate their fundamental teachings)? That might not prohibit religion, per se, but does it prohibit the free practice of religion? I think so... The real issue isn't whether religion should influence government or government policy, but whether government should be able to interfere with religion (in a positive or negative way), and the first amendment seems abundantly clear -- Congress has no right to do so (and after the 14th amendment, neither do the States).

Should your religion influence your politics? Well, there are really two questions involved in that question: first, should Christians participate in politics (let’s leave that for another blog); and second, can people separate something central to who they are, how they think, and how they live – in short, can people separate a major portion of their worldviews – from their politics? I’d hope asking the question would be sufficient, but just in case someone reading this far missed the point: Nobody can, nor should anyone try – to do so would cause existential crisis!

As a great fictional anarchist philosopher once said: “never whistle while you’re pissing because your mind would be in two places at once,” which is to say, if you were to attempt to separate your fundamental worldview from your political positions, you would (at least temporarily) be suffering from self-induced schizophrenia. So Chris, if you can (in good conscience) continue to participate in politics as a Christian, you must participate in politics as a Christian…

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Switch

I've decided to change blog sites... not that the server I was using is all bad, but it made it difficult for other people to comment on my blog, and I wasn't really impressed with the interface, so I've decided to try again.